Get an Uber or Lyft ride without the app
With their on-demand, prompt transportation services, ride hailing apps like Uber and Lyft have transformed the ease of getting from Point A to Point B at a price generally cheaper than a taxi.
But for those who don’t own a smartphone, or who can’t quite get the hang of downloading an app, or read the tiny print once it’s on their phone, these new transportation options have passed them by.
Four-in-10 seniors now own smartphones, more than double the share that did so in 2013, according to a 2017 report by the Pew Research Center. Smartphone adoption drops off steeply among those over 75, however. About 31 percent of 75- to 79-year-olds say they own smartphones, while only 17 percent of those ages 80 and older are smartphone owners.
However, new services are springing up to help older adults —the ones most in need of door-to-door transportation — make use of Uber and Lyft.
A grandmother-inspired service
One is Gogo Grandparent, started by two millennials who wanted to help older adults be more mobile. In fact, one of the founders, Justin Boogaard, was living with his grandmother when he started the company in 2016. She saw him frequently taking Uber and wanted to be able to call it on her home phone to catch a ride, too. But Uber doesn’t work by phone.
“She kind of looked at me sternly and said, ‘You should make that,’” Boogaard recalled.
And so he and a business partner did. They started out fielding all the phone calls themselves from referrals from his grandmother’s friends in Los Angeles and funneling the requests to Lyft and Uber. After six months or so, the company expanded nationally, hiring what they call “professional grandchildren” to answer the calls.
Gogo Grandparent users call a toll-free number and have a choice of pushing a few buttons to get what they need — such as pressing 1 for a pickup from home, or 2 to get a car where it dropped them off last. They can always press 0 to get an operator to help.
Rides are primarily provided by Lyft because Boogaard believes they have provided better customer service than Uber. After each ride is complete, the rider’s credit card is charged.
The service also can share ride information with family members with minute-by-minute updates by text, and will also respond to questions by text. The service is available across the country, wherever Lyft or Uber are available.
Gogo Grandparent plans to add new features, such as grocery and meal delivery, as well as home check-ins on older residents.
Of course, the more personalized service one gets with Gogo Grandparent comes at a higher cost than simply summoning Uber or Lyft. The company charges a 19 cents per minute “concierge” fee. But other costs are the same, such as the base charge and per-mile rate. Thus a ride from, say, Georgetown Hospital to Cleveland Park would be $2 to $3 more with GoGo Grandparent than Lyft alone.
What Boogaard has noticed is that about 30 to 40 percent of callers to the service do have smartphones. But riders sometimes have a hard time using them.
“With grandma as my guinea pig we learned a lot,” Boogaard said. “Looking back now, I was picking up the subtle things that people in their 80s have a tough time with sometimes. Age-related slow reaction times can dramatically affect someone’s app experience.”
For example, even if an older adult has downloaded the Lyft or Uber app, they might not understand what to do if they need to update it, especially if they can’t remember their password. Even dry skin, which often affects older adults, can hamper phone use because the touch screen may not respond, Boogaard noted.
About 1 in 3 riders call the Gogo Grandparent phone number for help once the ride is on the way because they can’t find the driver, the driver cancels, or for some other reason, he said.
Gogo Grandparent can be reached at 1-855-464-6872 or at https://gogograndparent.com.
Flip phone access
Another option for using Lyft without the app is through the large font, simple screen of the Jitterbug phone that is marketed to seniors. Users just press “0” to talk to an operator, who will request rides. Rides can be called on demand or scheduled up to a week ahead of time.
Customers get fare estimates in advance, but they must pay a few dollars in surcharge to GreatCall, the company that makes Jitterbug and provides the service, which rolled out in 2016.
To learn more, call 1-800-733-6632 or see www.greatcall.com.
After Uber noticed that many rides were being ordered for a different location than that of the person placing the order, they discovered many were being ordered on behalf of older adults who didn’t have the app. So last summer, Uber introduced Bounce, a feature on the app that makes it easier to order rides for others.
Erickson Living pilot project
Retirement communities are also trying to make it easier for their residents to use Lyft. Last September, Erickson Living began a pilot project with two of their 19 communities to help residents at Riderwood in Silver Spring, Md., and a community in Colorado get rides from Lyft.
The project is two-pronged: The partnership includes training residents and staff on how to request rides through the Lyft app, as well as training on Lyft’s web-based Concierge tool, which allows Erickson staff to request rides on behalf of their residents.
“Transportation limitations have a significant impact on the ability of older adults to operate independently,” said Steve Taylor, general manager of Lyft DC. “At Lyft, we’re constantly thinking about how we remove barriers to using our platform and provide the best possible experience for everyone.”
Getting to medical appointments is another issue for those who don’t drive or use a smartphone to hail a ride. In 2016, MedStar Health, the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, partnered with Uber to make getting to the doctor a little easier.
A “Ride with Uber” button is prominently displayed on MedStar’s website. MedStar patients can find out the wait time and approximate cost of a ride, and then request one on the website. They also will be able to set a ride reminder to automatically notify them an hour before their appointment, to help keep them on schedule.
Rides can be set at www.medstarhealth.org/mhs/ride-with-uber.